If you were to have polled comic book readers sometime before 2008 regarding which original story by acclaimed superstar comic book writer Mark Millar would end up as the highest grossing film adapted from his various works, few would have predicted Kingsman: The Secret Service. I suppose one reason for that would be that the film wasn’t released until 2014 and the comic didn’t even debut until 2012 but, even if there was supernatural foreknowledge of what was to come, most would have probably assumed that Kick-Ass would be the reigning film champion of the motion picture Millarverse. But then Secret Service hit theaters and more than quadrupled the worldwide gross of Kick-Ass, raking in just over $414 million worldwide on an $81 million budget. So, this sequel was inevitable.
The original wowed and surprised audiences with a no-holds-barred, nothing-is-off-limits approach to its content that included seemingly endless instances of offbeat, hyperstylized violence, language, and sexual content that was somehow presented in such an over-the-top and charming way that it was difficult to be offended and absurdly easy to be entertained.
And “absurd” is an appropriate word to describe both that original film and the new Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The new installment in the franchise carries over the absurdity that viewers loved so much about the first film and in some ways even takes it up a notch.
This film feels much more like a comic book movie than the original Secret Service but it achieves that goal without sacrificing its own identity. There are lots of silly little gimmicks that are thrown in for fun, the headquarters of the antagonist (Julianne Moore’s Poppy) is a delight, and the action scenes are absolutely breathtaking and spectacularly choreographed. Director Matthew Vaughn clearly loves this franchise and really takes every opportunity he can find within it to let loose and just go crazy. Sorry, Spinal Tap; your level of eleven just wouldn’t cut it, these days.
Despite that, he seems to reign it in with respect to other aspects of the film. While the violence is as ever-present as before, it’s not nearly as graphic as in the first movie. Most of the really brutal acts are either shown through rapid quick-cuts, are in some way obscured from sight, or even occur off-screen entirely. The so-called “controversial” sex scene is also brief, features no actual nudity, and serves a larger character arc rather than existing to justify an R-rating. I have no personal preference regarding these choices, but I was a bit surprised as I do feel that the film sacrifices a bit of its quirkiness and boldness because of them.
Compounding this problem is the relocation of much of the story from England to America. I preferred the action take place across the pond because that assisted in setting it apart from most other films within its realm. We get enough of America in the movies. England is a nice change of pace, providing different sensibilities and visuals. The move to America jettisons a bit of the charm.
However, in exchange for said charm, we add Jeff Bridges and the aforementioned Julianne Moore to the cast. Bridges is one of the greatest actors living, today. He doesn’t get much to do, here, but it’s always nice to have him around. Moore clearly has a blast playing the villain and I had just as much fun watching her do it. She would have stolen the show if not for Elton John, who steps in as . . . well . . . Elton John. In a nod to the celebrity-kidnapping plot of Secret Service, John plays an alternate version (I assume? But I also kind of hope not.) of himself and the results are stupendous. All-in-all, The Golden Circle wasn’t as funny as The Secret Service, but all of Elton John’s scenes deliver in every way in which they are intended.
I wasn’t crazy about the much-publicized decision to resurrect Colin Firth’s Harry as I was hoping this series wouldn’t fall into those sorts of tropes and clichés that we see so often from various forms of comic book media. There’s a narrative and emotional trade off, though (that I won’t specify in order to avoid spoilers) so I suppose that I can’t complain too much. Firth also has a nice screen presence and is a welcome addition, but part of me still would have preferred an alternate option to bringing him back.
Amidst all of this, the narrative serves as a metaphor for Donald Trump’s black-and-white perspective on lawbreakers, treating them all as equally reprehensible and lacking the ability to discern amongst the many layers and circumstances that perpetuate such actions. This comparison isn’t necessarily overt (it’s intended to be, but many viewers will miss it, anyway), but it’s there and adds an extra element to the film.
Despite my minor quibbles, it’s virtually impossible to not have a good time while watching Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The action, the dialogue, the twists and turns, the music, and the cast all combine to provide an enthralling and exciting experience that is almost at the level of The Secret Service. It’s not quite there, but I imagine if you wanted more from the first film, you’ll be happy with The Golden Circle, even if it’s toned down a bit from that initial installment.
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